Tyler Two-Step: Skaggs Gains Ground

LOS ANGELES–The twin Tylers of Southern California high school pitching prospects—Matzek and Skaggs—were in action this past weekend to christen the opening of the 2009 local high school baseball season.

Matzek, from Capistrano Valley High in south Orange County, toed the rubber on Friday at home in front of a dozen scouts. The talented lefty posted a complete game shutout against Huntington Beach, allowing two hits, walking three and striking out six.

Beau Amaral was Matzek’s primary threat in the Huntington Beach lineup. The speedy center fielder, who is the son of former big leaguer Rich Amaral, laid down a perfect drag bunt in the first inning and hot footed down the line in less than four seconds for a base hit. The younger Amaral was later nipped by an eyelash on an infield hopper; he blazed down to first in 4.03 seconds.

Uncharacteristically, Matzek battled his command all day long, and struggled mightily to keep his heater down in the zone. Matzek’s fastball sat in the 88-91 mph range, and he showed difficulty in corralling his 74-77 mph curve and 80 mph slider.

Matzek showed the ability he has displayed in the past of being able to make a big pitch when necessary. He wriggled out of a jam in the second inning with a 91 fastball on the black of the inside corner, then later closed out the game with his only plus-91 delivery of the day—a 93 mph darter that froze the nonplussed batter for the final out.

Skaggs, also lefthanded, scaled the hill on Saturday as his Santa Monica squad squared off with Westlake High. With a throng of 50 scouts in attendance, Skaggs struck out six in just three innings, allowing two hits, two runs and one walk. Westlake’s Christian Yelich, a UCLA recruit and one of the nation’s top 2010 prospects, touched him for an opposite-field home run, showing the smooth and effortless lefthanded swing that resembles 2007 SoCal draftee Freddie Freeman.

Skaggs displayed excellent raw stuff in his abbreviated stint, firing an 89-92 mph fastball, 77 mph slurvy breaking ball and 68 mph slow, rainbow curve. To his credit, Skaggs has gradually added velocity to his four-seamer over the past two years, and it is delivered with an audible tennis player’s grunt.

Matzek and Skaggs have noticeably different builds. Matzek is 6-foot-2, 210 pounds, and his build is strong, well-developed and mature, without a significant amount of projection. Skaggs, who facially resembles former big leaguer Kirk Reuter, is 6-foot-5, 190 pounds, with “coat hanger” shoulders, long arms, long legs, big feet and big hands. Skaggs is exceptionally projectable. He also exhibits unusually loose and gangly physical actions, reminiscent of Woody from the movie “Toy Story.”

BA asked several veteran scouts for their assessments of Matzek and Skaggs in comparison to Cole Hamels, the Philles ace who was named MVP of the 2008 World Series. Hamels was drafted as the 17th overall pick in the 2002 draft out of Rancho Bernardo High in San Diego County.

An American League crosschecker offered this opinion: “Matzek is more physical, and has better raw stuff than Hamels (at a similar stage). Matzek needs to show me more pitchability. Hamels was much better at changing speeds.” Holding up his left hand in a simulated change up grip, he continued, “That’s what I’m looking for. I haven’t seen that yet from this kid (Matzek).”

A National League crosschecker was more emphatic in the Hamels-Matzek-Skaggs comparison. Referring to Matzek, he chirped, “There is no comparison. Hamels had much more pitchability, and his curve and change were much better.”

“Skaggs is a stud,” he added. “He’s more like Hamels. Skaggs has a higher ceiling than Matzek, a good curve and an easier arm action.”

This scout didn’t just compare Matzek and Skaggs, but added lefthander Matt Purke of Klein High in Texas to the mix; Purke and Matzek opened the year as the top two prep lefthanders on most teams’ draft boards. "(When I’ve seen Matzek), he’s had three bad outings in a row, and he’s showing me only an average fastball. Plus, he’s struggling to throw strikes, and Matzek has no change to speak of. Purke is sitting at 94 recently, so he’s starting to separate himself.”

Another AL crosschecker chimed in with his evaluation. “Hamels was more advanced than either Matzek or Skaggs. His secondary stuff was sharper. With Matzek and Skaggs, their curve is sometimes there, sometimes not. With Hamels it was there nearly all the time.”

This AL scout added, “Hamels would have been drafted much higher, but many clubs red-flagged him due to a broken left arm he had suffered earlier in his high school career—that scared a lot of clubs off.

“Skaggs is more comparable to Hamels, and Skaggs may actually be a little taller than Hamels was.”

Obviously, Cole Hamels is an exceptionally tough standard to match up to. While both Matzek and Skaggs are premium talents, my recent observations as well as my discussions with other scouts indicate that Matzek, while still an elite prospect, of course, may be regressing slightly in terms of draft value.

Skaggs, in contrast, is slowly gaining the draft’s most precious element on the periodic chart—helium.